Is It Allowed for Prosecution to Explain ''Reasonable Doubt'' to the Jury ?
In People v. Edwards, 55 Ill. 2d 25, 302 N.E.2d 306 (1973), the court, although finding that a prosecution's attempt to explain reasonable doubt was not reversible error, advised that the "better practice" was "not to attempt to define the term 'reasonable doubt' either in voir dire or closing argument." 55 Ill. 2d at 35.
In People v. Eddington, 129 Ill. App. 3d 745, 473 N.E.2d 103, 84 Ill. Dec. 887 (1984), the appellate court admonished the prosecution for remarks in closing argument that served to "de-emphasize the State's burden." 129 Ill. App. 3d at 781.
The Eddington court relied upon other grounds for reversal of the defendant's conviction and did not hold that the closing comments were reversible error, but noted that the prosecution's attempt to describe the burden of proof was more objectionable than remarks generally found to be insufficiently prejudicial to warrant reversal of a conviction. 129 Ill. App. 3d at 781.
The court concluded:
"We trust the prosecutor will not address the definition of reasonable doubt on retrial." 129 Ill. App. 3d at 781.
A prosecutor's implication that the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is merely "pro forma" or a "minor detail" is improper. People v. Frazier, 107 Ill. App. 3d 1096, 1102, 438 N.E.2d 623, 63 Ill. Dec. 692 (1982).
Our supreme court has explicitly disapproved attempts by counsel to define reasonable doubt.
"Reasonable doubt is a term which needs no elaboration and we have so frequently discussed the futility of attempting to define it that we might expect the practice to be discontinued." People v. Malmenato, 14 Ill. 2d 52, 61, 150 N.E.2d 806 (1958).